KARACHI: While the Supreme Court has refused to accept Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) candidate Syeda Waheeda Shah’s apology for her aggressive behaviour against an assistant presiding officer during the recent by-polls, the aggrieved party in the incident gave the public office aspirant a glimmer of hope by pardoning her on Saturday.
Presiding officer Habiba Memon and her assistant Shagufta Memon, in their statements given at the office of the provincial election commissioner, Karachi said: “We are not giving the statement under pressure. But Waheeda Shah, along with her family members, visited us and apologised for the incident, saying that she was misguided by some polling agents.”
The statements were recorded during the trial of a case initiated on the directives of the chief election commissioner. The returning officer of PS-53 (Tando Muhammad Khan) Ali Asghar Sial recorded the eyewitness accounts of around eight people, including candidates who contested the election, police officials and others present during the by-polls. Waheeda was not present during the trial; however, her lawyer assured the returning officer that she would appear at the next hearing scheduled on Monday.
Shagufta Memon, who was caught on live television being slapped by Waheeda, avoided the press after the trial hearing. On the other hand, presiding officer Habiba Memon told the media that polling was smoothly under way when Waheeda arrived with other party workers and moments later began assaulting the assistant presiding officer saying, “Massive rigging is under way at the polling station and you people are involved in it.”
According to Habiba, the PPP candidate also assaulted her when she denied allegations of rigging, adding that Waheeda had not investigated the matter before taking such drastic action. “We called the police and the matter was resolved after Waheeda came to us and apologised,” Habiba said.
Meanwhile, Amir Zardari, an independent candidate running in the Tando Muhammad Khan constituency, also levelled serious allegations against Waheeda.
“All PPP workers, including Federal Minister for Water and Power Naveed Qamar, were personally casting bogus votes,” Zardari said, adding that police and other district machinery had been used to ensure a win for the ruling party candidate.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Provincial Election Commissioner Sono Khan Baloch said the polling staff had every right to pardon Waheeda but the Election Commission had to complete its investigation, regardless of such developments.
Baloch went on to add that Waheeda might face the consequences for creating chaos and disturbing the polling staff because the election was suspended for some time and staff was harassed. He declined further comments, saying that the matter was sub judice.
Earlier, the Supreme Court postponed further hearing for March 12 to enable the ECP, the inspector general and others to submit report.
However, legal and constitutional experts believe Waheeda Shah, who unofficially stood victorious in the by-election for Sindh Assembly’s seat PS-53, could face disqualification despite being pardoned.
Constitutional law expert Abid Hasan Minto believes Waheeda’s offence is of a public nature and non-compoundable. Since she assaulted Habiba Memon, while she was on official duty as a public functionary, a settlement between the parties to the dispute would not be sufficient to close the matter.
Justice (Retd) Tariq Mehmood seemed certain that Waheeda would have to face legal action for disturbing polling and creating chaos among voters as the charges had already been proved beyond reasonable doubt. Hamid Khan, another constitutional expert, is convinced that the pardon by the aggrieved party was obtained under coercion, pointing towards Waheeda’s influential family.
Advocate Misbah Shaheen believes that it is now completely in the hands of the court to decide Waheeda’s fate. Since the incident had shown her to be unsuitable for holding a public office, there is a chance of her being disqualified from the provincial seat.
(With additional reporting by Azam Khan in Islamabad)
Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2012.